Jeffrey P. Bezos AmazonThe holiday shopping season has begun and retailers are scrambling to attract shoppers, but it won't be easy. Unemployment is stuck above 9%, consumer confidence remains shaky, and the real estate market is a mess.

Even with all these headwinds, though, times are not as bad for retailers as some may think. Shares of many companies are up and some are bullish about the future as they plan to hire loads of temporary holiday help.

Wrapping up our month-long special report on the retail sector, DailyFinance picks the most powerful players in the industry. To qualify for our list, the company must have a well-known CEO who is perceived as an industry leader, as well as improving financial performance:

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com (AMZN) -- Bezos (pictured, above right) has defied the skeptics who derided the Seattle-based company as a low-margin flash in the pan. The 46-year-old, who reportedly took apart his own crib with a screwdriver when he was a toddler, developed the business plan for Amazon in his garage in 1994. The Earth's biggest bookseller has since evolved into the world's largest e-commerce site. Thanks to his early start in Internet-based sales, the Seattle-based company now has a market cap topping $75 billion. Shares of Amazon have soared more than 268% over the past five years, and have gained 25% this year.

Michael Duke, CEO of Walmart (WMT) -- Ever since being named CEO of the world's biggest retailer in February 2009, the 60-year-old Duke has been trying to get its mojo back. It's not for lack of trying. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer is sprucing up its stores, hiking advertising spending and slashed expenses. It also is looking to expand overseas. Same store sales, though, have declined for five quarters in a row, and Wall Street remains skeptical. Duke recently said he expects fourth quarter sales to improve but declined to offer specifics. Shares are up 1% this year.

Gregg W. Steinhafel, CEO of Target (TGT) -- The 55-year-old executive, who started off as a management trainee in 1979, is having a better year than his rivals at Walmart. Shares are up 12% in 2010. As Retailer Today noted, Target has reported positive same store sales growth in every month since December 2009, except for an aberration in April 2010. Target is benefiting from its decision to add more fresh produce to stores, and giving shoppers discounts for using their Target credit cards seems to be paying off. Target is optimistic things will get better in the fourth quarter.

Terry Lundgren, CEO of
Macy's (M) -- Under the 58-year-old's leadership the department store chain has gone local, offering goods geared toward local tastes. In a speech last year at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Lundgren noted that it was hard for Macy's to offer a personalized touch to its shoppers when buyers and middle managers had to service as many as 200 stores across a region of up to 10 states. Macy's new local plan tackles that issue head-on. Shares are up more than 32% this year fueled by strong earnings. Revenue is expected to rise more than 5% this year.

Brian Dunn, CEO of Best Buy (BBY) -- When the 50-year-old took over leadership of the largest consumer electronics retailer last year, the sector was in perhaps its biggest slump ever, with long-time rival Circuit City going bust. But the former grocery store clerk who never went to college is fighting back against rivals including Amazon by opening small mall-based stores that sell only mobile phones and by remodeling existing ones. It is also asking manufacturers to design exclusive products. He even still uses his Twitter account to address customer complaints, according to SmartMoney.com. Fiscal second quarter earnings rose 61 percent and the retailer also increased its guidance. Shares are up more than 8% this year.

Millard "Mickey" Drexler, CEO of J. Crew (JCG) -- For a guy who was supposedly washed up, the 66-year-old Drexler has done resoundingly well. Months after he was fired from Gap Inc. (GPS) in 2002, the retailer began emerging from its slump as merchandise he originally ordered took off. He has excelled at his next assignment at J. Crew. "At Gap he turned the wearing of khakis into an art form," The Wall Street Journal says. "... and now at J. Crew he is spinning sequins, combat pants and cashmere into a raging success story. In 2005, the company turned its first profit in five years, and between 2003 and 2008 revenues rose 107 percent."

Stephen Sadove, CEO of Saks (SKS) -- The 58-year-old is overseeing the storied retailer at an opportune moment. Shares are up more than 67% this year as investors bet that well-heeled consumers would begin spending again. They were right. September same store sales rose 6.5%, ahead of analysts expectations of 3.8%, Of course, not everything is hunk-dory. Saks continues to shutter underperforming stores. Nonetheless, analysts are expecting yearly earnings per share growth of 31.6 percent.

Edward Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) -- The 48-year-old hedge fund manager was the driving force behind the merger of Sears and Kmart in 2004. Six years later, many investors are still not sure if the deal was a good idea. Lampert has been compared with Warren Bufffett because of his long-term investment outlook and his penchant for penning lengthy missives to shareholders. Shares of the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based company are down more than 37% this year, though they have rebounded lately.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Banking Services 101

Understand your bank's services, and how to get the most from them

View Course »

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

28 Comments

Filter by:
Kevin Jones

Retail guys are just so professional.
_______________
http://www.righttocancel.com

August 04 2011 at 8:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kim

I watched a once great company for customers, employees, and sharholders alike go to hell in a handbasket under Eddie Lampert. Scary that someone with a lot of money can just come in a ruin large companies for thier own enrichment. Sad, two American icon retail chains squashed.

October 30 2010 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BHarrison2

As the middle class and the lower class become more impoverished by the exploitation by the wealthyelitis special interests (baners and market insiders") where are these retailers going to get expanded customer bases? The American consumers used to account for 70% or MORE of our national economy by the expenditure of their "disposable income" which is being substantially diminished. It appears that we are going to have too many corporations chasing too many ("disposable") dollars in the near future. The wealthy 20% of Americans who now own MORE than 85% of our national wealth are NOT going to make up the difference at stores like The Gap, etc. The economic "balance" of our economy has been undermined to the point that consumers do NOT have the disposable income to support all of these business enterprises . . . that is merely common sense. The future is going to be vastly different from the past.

October 29 2010 at 2:56 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
tourme

Bought a expensive patio set from Kmart. Rusted all over my deck within a month! Ruined my deck. I have written numerous letters and placed an insurance claim with Sedgwick Insurance. They refuse to pay. Guess I will be seeing them in court! With sales practices such as this ED Lampert won't be on top for long!! A dissatified customer.....

October 29 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to tourme's comment
BHarrison2

Buy cheap, get cheap. So now you are going to enrich some attorney with a B.S. lawsuit . . . more wasted money. If you want something of true quality, then pay the few extra dollars for the "quality". You obviously deserve what you got.

October 29 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rlupia

You have to remember it is only expensive for you. Lampert buys everything cheap. Sears ans Kmart do not care about quality, they only care about the bottom line. Kenmore products were always known for quality, but that time is over. Lampert only cares about Lampert.

October 30 2010 at 7:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rkrivoruk

Shop at your local store, don't give the big stores your hard earned money, your only supporting the rich the flashy overpaid CEO'S or bank robbers. shop local give your money to someone who has the same life style you do. The Mom and Pop Shopps who will appreciate your business.

October 29 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rkrivoruk's comment
nflamingo

I couldn't agree with you more. The GREED of the rich forced the consumer to buy a lower quality product, because the quality produce is produced for those that have a lot of money.

October 29 2010 at 7:57 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
quapawsix

Christmas = A reason to spend enormous amounts of cash on cheap junk made in China it will last for about 6mo.'s and then you have to buy more cheap junk to replace the cheap junk, do you feel like you are a hamster on a wheel?

October 29 2010 at 10:30 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ssyankeeclipper

if you do not like 2nd hand, how about homemade cookies? gift cards for a dinner out? a bottle of california wine or your local vineyard? lots of ways for americans to help america, i know you think it is easier to buy the cheap trinket from china mart but if you want to moan and groan over big corps. getting rich stop supporting them..every time you walk into the above stores you employ another slave labor overseas

October 29 2010 at 9:38 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
ssyankeeclipper

if you really want to help the economy and your life do not shop at these stores, go to flea markets 2nd hand shops that's if you really want to help america people in these places are your small business ownwes, not china mart not toys are chine or macy's or any of the above..start now to help america,,boycott all these places and any others that hire minimin wage and temp helpers start today

October 29 2010 at 9:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ssyankeeclipper

everything made overseas and one wonders where the jobs are,

October 29 2010 at 9:24 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
ultraz2

US NOW SPENDS ANNUALLY 160% OF ALL THE TAXES IT COLLECTS. 700 BILLION ANNUALLY GOES TO PAY INTREST ON THE NATIONAL DEBT. SOON 1/3 OF ALL TAXES MONEY COLLECTED BY THE US GOVERNMENT WILL GO TO DEBT INTREST ONLY.Another 50 % of all taxes goes toward defense,homeland security,FBI,CIA,INTERPOL,UNITED NATIONS andForeign aid which gets spent on US DEFENSE CONTRACTORS.33.33% plus 50%=83.33% that leaves only16.66% to run the USA regarding all other expenses.----BANKRUPT. YEA JUST GIVE BILLIONS OF TAX DOLLARS TO SCREW UP TARP BANKS WHICH GIVE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS IN MANAGEMENT BONUSES------Morons of both parties run capitol hill.

October 29 2010 at 1:21 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply